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A Young Violinist’s Victory


It was on a quiet Sunday afternoon in October 2013, during the Delaware County Symphony’s 31st annual Youth Concerto Competition, that I first met Carolyn Semes of Broomall. The 16-year-old violinist was warming up in a rehearsal room at Jacobs Music Store in Wilmington, Del., her fingers flowing with fluid flexibility on the strings of her instrument.

Carolyn Semes won a solo in the Delaware County Symphony’s final full performance of the 2013-2014 season.

I was immediately struck by not only her violin technique but the startling emotional maturity she brought to her audition piece. It was at that moment I remembered what well-known cellist Pablo Casals once said, “The first thing to do in life is to do with purpose what one proposes to do.” Clearly, this young musician embodied the essence of Casals’ wisdom.

A few moments later, Carolyn stepped into the tense audition room. With a nod to her piano accompanist, she gently placed the violin on her left shoulder, brought the bow to the strings and began her interpretation of Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, a very challenging, four-movement fantasy on Scottish folk melodies. Within just three minutes of her audition, I could see in this candidate a carefree confidence that strives for the classical ideal within the spontaneous moment.

After all of the candidates performed, a panel of judges well-versed in classical music conferred among themselves and arrived at a unanimous decision: Carolyn won the competition, earning her an opportunity to be a guest soloist in the symphony’s final full performance of the 2013-2014 season on Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 3 p.m. The performance takes place in the beautiful, 300-seat Meagher Theatre on the Neumann University campus in Aston, Pa.

Carolyn is a Distinguished Honors junior at The Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School, University Scholars Program, where she is a member of The AIC Council. She was previously a student of Choong-Jin Chang of The Philadelphia Orchestra and is currently working with Masao Kawasaki at Juilliard Pre-College.

She has been performing since she was 4 years old, including many recitals in area retirement homes such as Crosslands, Waverly Heights, Dunwoody, The Quadrangle, Plush Mills, and Ann’s Choice.

She has been the recipient of multiple scholarships, including the Starling Violin Scholarship at Temple University Music Prep, where she was a member of The Youth Chamber Orchestra, and the Snitzer Advanced Studies Chamber Music Scholarship at The Settlement Music School.

Her talent has won her many competitions and given her the chance to solo with impressive symphonies. She has won The Old York Road Symphony, The Ambler Symphony, and the Temple Music Prep competitions. She was a guest soloist with The Old York Road Symphony, The Ambler Symphony, The Olney Symphony, The Temple University Orchestra, and The Ocean City Pops. In 2009, she appeared as soloist with The Shanghai (China) Philharmonic and, in 2007, with The Macau (China) Youth Orchestra as part of their 10-Year Anniversary Celebration.

Carolyn has also been heard on Shanghai Radio’s “The Weekly Radio Broadcast” and on Hong Kong radio on RTHK as a guest on “Children’s Corner.” She has spent the last six summers as a student of Masao Kawasaki at The Aspen Music Festival. She has played in Master Classes for Pamela Frank, Robert McDuffie, The Johannes Quartet, and The Orion Quartet.

Jacobs Music Store in Wilmington graciously donates their facilities for the annual competition. The 2013 judges were (front row-left to right) Tim Ribchester, DCS Music Director, Dr. Adam Vidiksis, and Dr. C. Michael Kelly. (Back row left to right) Eric Benson of Jacobs Music, Brenda King, musician with the DCS, and Christa Converse.

Christa Converse, a classically trained oboist and playing member of the Delaware County Symphony, was chairwoman of the 31st annual Youth Concerto Competition. While complimenting the “outstanding talent” of the young musicians who compete in the competition, Converse also notes, “The Delaware County Symphony is a strong advocate and leader of classical music in the regional community.”

For additional information on the Delaware County Symphony Youth Concerto Competition and upcoming concerts please call 610-879-7059 or click here.

A well-known volunteer presence in the Delaware County arts community, Bill Conville is heavily involved with the Delaware County Symphony and contributes extensively to The Academy of International Ballet and International Ballet Classique.